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Medicare phone scams are common

Con artists are always looking for a new way to make a quick buck, and nearly as long as there have been phones, there have been phone scams.

Scammers prey on people they think are vulnerable, and often people on Medicare or Social Security Disability benefits fit their mark. But by keeping a few tips in mind, you can become savvy and outsmart the fraudsters.

Medicare defrauded over $1 billion

April court filing from federal prosecutors detailed a recent scam: a massive scheme targeting seniors and the disabled to defraud Medicare out of $1.2 billion. All told, prosecutors charged 24 people in the scam involving medical equipment suppliers and telemedicine companies.

The complex international scheme involved call centers in the Philippines and Latin America reaching out to Medicare patients convincing them to get neck, back, shoulder and wrist braces that would be free or low-cost under their health care plan. The patients were then referred to doctors at over-the-phone medical practices who would receive a bribe or kickback for prescribing the braces.

“These defendants — who range from corporate executives to medical professionals — allegedly participated in an expansive and sophisticated fraud to exploit telemedicine technology meant for patients otherwise unable to access health care,” Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said in a statement.

Protect yourself from scams

This latest case isn’t an isolated incident. Medicare phone scams are frequent, targeting the disabled, the elderly or anyone else on Social Security. Common scams detailed by the Federal Trade Commission include phone scammers asking for your Medicare number, a caller claiming your information has been compromised or someone calling to say they have a new Medicare card for you.

Here are some ways to protect yourself from being defrauded by scammers:

  • Don’t give out personal information. Fraudsters may use this information to steal your identity or take money from your accounts.
  • Never pay for a new Medicare card. Real Medicare cards are free, and Medicare will never ask you to pay for one.
  • Look out for impostors. Scammers take many forms, but will often pose as someone from your bank, the government, a charity or a family member. Be wary of any unexpected calls or text messages.
  • Search for information online. If something seems amiss, look up the company in a search engine. Often others will have reported scams online.
  • Sign up for the Federal Trade Commission’s scam alerts. The FTC stays up to date on the latest scams and will send information to help you protect yourself to your email.
  • If you’re the victim of a scam, act fast. If you sense you’ve been scammed, time is of the essence. Call your bank, credit card companies and your insurer and let them know the situation. They can then be on the lookout for suspicious activity.

Be vigilant

Scammers are sophisticated. They constantly develop new methods to defraud people out of their money, their identities and their privacy. It takes vigilance, but you can protect yourself from scams by always being cautious, smart and wary.

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